The world, this morning, is full of surreal certainties. The sky is losing its grey gloom to an azure amnesia, scattering like a giant inkblot. The previous night’s anguish of the sea is now reduced to lethargic rumblings, her impossibly delicious, sublime agony a strange companion to my independence of individual curiosity. Her eyes always aloft to the skies, she deeply islands on herself.
Lassitude is luxury. I walk on the white sandy shore; my being summarised by nothing more than deep inhales and exhales at this moment. Almost an hour later, the cousin’s call to board an auto-rickshaw waiting at the entrance of our beach village breaks my trance. Bajaj auto-rickshaws in Dar es Salaam are adorable (as long as your driver rides it like a rickshaw and not batmobile), I notice. We leave the solitary beach behind and head towards the Kivukoni Fish Market.
We get off the rickshaw to take a barge at the harbour of Dar es Salaam. We buy our tickets and dissolve into the crowd waiting to get on to the massive barge. I hear the deep growl of the iron a few feet away from us, and dwarfed by all the Africans, I am suddenly acutely, humbly aware of my foreignness. Being a part of a crowd of a completely different race, ethnicity reminds me of Kuvempu’s idea of ‘Vishwamaanava’ and I am moved to tears. We are all so different but we are all the same after all. So human. If we all came from Africa, aren’t these my long-lost cousins I am walking along with? I smile a hesitant smile at a woman in a lovely formal dress and she returns it generously.
The barge reaches the other side of the harbour. The fish market is a shockingly contrasting place of spectacular chaos. The odour of the fish is a little overwhelming but the sheer variety of them on the auction tables surrounded by groups bidding on them is a scene etching itself on my mind like a feverish dream. The air is pulsating with all the yelling and uproar in a language foreign to me. A man walks past me with a fish half his size, its startled dead eyes jolts me into a place of sudden dreadful silence. I want to leave and request the cousin to hurry up. We walk away until the din fades into a dim linger in our memory.
In the National Museum, we find a calming silence. Everything here is for more than brief consideration. In the confines of these walls begins an enchantment so vast that the sense of returning grows its roots deep into our souls. Only days ago, a few friends and I had had a good laugh about my idea of bringing human skulls as gifts to them all. But I now stand before one, and so present is its ancientness that I ache to know the ancients. I ache to learn of their passions and griefs of the time they began to descend the tress and walk erect. I ache to know how their joys of discovering everything for the first time did not suffer the nostalgia of any familiarity or similarity. Here, I think how stubborn we human beings are as storytellers that we make even the stones sing.
The next stop is another frenzied place of anarchic air – the Kariakoo Market. We make our way through the bustling streets of Dar es Salaam, drinking in all the sounds and fragrances of a foreign city until the Market brings us a whiff of familiarity – it shares its soul with our own Bengaluru’s K. R. Market, I am convinced in a few minutes. Vendors even make spontaneous songs to sell their products and that’s perhaps the only different but refreshing experience. And oh, the sweet, sacred, spiritually uplifting anonymity such places offer!
In this elevated mood, I finally say yes to the cousin to go kayaking post lunch and he laughs like he knew that the wildchild in me would get over her initial apprehensions.
If the day was going to become an indelible memory, I wanted to make every moment of it count. And so I join him for kayaking once we reach our beach village. I am not a swimmer and I have only recently gotten over my morbid fear of water but the blue, blue Kipepeo Beach lures me into this (mis)adventure. With a guide alongside us, we begin rowing our narrow boat. My heart leaps to my throat as I face the rising tides lunging towards us with that eternal hunger of the sea, that eternal rage of her, too wild for the feeble human heart.
The shore is far behind us and the cousin jumps into the water unannounced for a little swim and I am spending all of my energy to suppress a scream. By the time I manage to stay calm, he tries to get back on the boat but it topples, throwing me into the thick-blue depths of the sea. The terrifying silence in the depth of her swallows my screams mercilessly and when the lifejacket pulls me up to surface, I am a scared wreck of a thing. There is no glory of emergence to my rising up to the surface; it is rather pathetic how I feel like nothing more than a shadow of a thing, funny even, in my attempts to stay still until the guard finds me.
We return for a shower and find our little huts adorable in the afternoon light. I notice its rustic details with more attention, its simplicity screams in every little imperfection of its wooden planks and rusty door-hinges.
We grab some beer and walk up to the shore where a few people ask me if I was okay and I blush scarlet to my throat remembering my embarrassing misadventure. But in the evening breeze cooling with every passing minute, I learn to laugh about it; I even glow with a harmless pride that I tried, summoning the scared non-swimmer in me to take one more breath, to rise like the wave itself and capture that ascent as a poignant memory.
The second day in Africa has been about all beloved and some ungraspable experiences. A volley of unresolved emotional conundrums. Oscillations between imaginings and everything that feels real. Africa, on the second day, has taken me suddenly, and all of me. Head to toe – a bruised ankle, a mess of tangled hair, chalky skin remembering briny communications. An unlikely mingle of nostalgia and all things in the now.
(To be continued…)
Click here to read the first part of this travelogue.